1843 – 1927
Foe of Jazz
Skinner would have had a pretty poor view of contemporary developments in traditional music whereby elements of Scottish folk and modern jazz are brought together in ‘fusion’. Indeed, one of his artistic aims was to kill jazz through fiddle music:
Unfortunately/fortunately (please delete according to your own taste) he did not live long enough to complete his task:
Skinner’s American trip to “kill jazz” was recognised in the exhibition Wicked Good Fiddling held some years ago at the Lewis Gallery in Portland, Maine. This included a 1926 press photograph of him on arrival at Boston on his way to participate in the World Fiddlers’ contest at Lewiston, Maine. The player on the left is the Irish competitor Wiseman from Co. Cork.
Here is another press image:
The story of 83 year old Skinner’s exploits on this trip are detailed in the People’s Journal of 29 May 1926 and reproduced in the modern edition of his biography My Life and Adventures (Aberdeen 1994) p. 111-113. There we learn that at the competition the contestants were banned from the playing of strathspeys. Also, the pianist was unable to follow Skinner’s playing and he left the platform in disgust. To make matters worse, particularly in the light of his attack on jazz:
Another thing that hurt his dignity was that a jazz band had been engaged for the occasion and that contests in the playing of melodeons, mouth-organs, jews-harps, &c., were features of the entertainment. (p. 113)
The images are borrowed from the exhibition’s Facebook gallery: https://www.facebook.com/wickedgoodfiddling/
Athole Highlanders Farewell to Loch Katrine / Cameron Highlanders / The Inverness Gathering
Bagpipe Marches Scottish bagpipe marches played on fiddle. From 78 rpm record Regal G6624 26758. Recorded London February 1910.
The Bonny Lass o’ Bon Accord / Marquis of Huntly’s Farewell / The £10 Fiddle
“Medley No. 2” Scottish fiddle music played on fiddle. From 78 rpm record Regal G6624 26762. Recorded London February 1910.
The £10 Fiddle (slow)
A reel composed and played by Skinner. This track is extracted from the above selection and slowed down to 125% of its original length while maintaining the correct pitch for learning and study purposes. This facilitates appreciation of the fiddler’s style and interpretation. Compare with the versions played by David McCallum.
Duet For One Violin
This outstanding track was added to the Internet Archive by Emilio de Gogorza. From 78 rpm Zonophone Record [X-47904 Matrix No. 1689 e] recorded London 30 January 1905.
Cradle Song / Lovat Scouts / Laird of Drumblair / Pretty Peggy
Air, march, strathspey and reel.
The Devil in the Kitchen
Who was the man who taught The Strathspey King?
According to Skinner himself, writing about his musical apprenticeship as youth with Dr Mark and his Little Men in Manchester from 1855 to 1861:
Now, had I remained with the forty boys on tour, I am certain I would never have gained fame as a violinist or become known as the “Strathspey King”. Just prior to my return to Manchester [having been sent back there from Luton in disgrace after fighting with a fellow boy musician], Rougier, a French violinist from the Paris Conservatoire (and a member of Charles Hallé’s Manchester Band) [Hallé ran “Gentlemen’s” and other concerts in the city from 1850 and Orchestral Concerts from 1857], joined the staff, and I was really in luck’s way in finding myself under his tuition. I unhesitatingly ascribe all the success that has been mine to the skillful instruction I received from Rougier… Rougier, I think, took rather kindly to me… and right away commenced to teach me the theory of music, and after several months steady work and skillful tuition, I was passed out to rejoin the “Little Men”. [James Scott Skinner My Life and Adventures (Aberdeen, 1994) pp. 13-14.
The influence of Skinner’s mentor is discussed in the excellent Aberdeen University web site on the fiddler:
Dr Mark taught the boys to play from memory – which is exactly how James had learned to play in the first place. They had lessons in the morning and again in the afternoon. Every afternoon and evening, they performed in concerts. Dr Mark was a liberal master – he gave the boys an hour’s play in the morning and again in the afternoon, another hour for dinner and an hour for tea. He believed that a musical education encouraged a happy family life. Dr Mark received no public money to provide for the boys. He reckoned that in ten years he had spent £30,000 – a huge sum by today’s standards. He was committed to the ideal of setting up a national music school for talented children.
James, known as ‘Jamie’ or ‘the kilted boy’, was not always happy and at one point was sent home from a tour for fighting. Musically, this was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. Back in Manchester, Charles Rougier, a French violinist who played with the new Hallé Orchestra, gave him violin lessons. Rougier realized that James could not read music, so set about rectifying this. Rougier’s teaching was so good that in later years, James credited him for his success as a composer and performer.
By the 1870s, Skinner was giving concerts all over the North-east of Scotland. The programmes normally included some of his own compositions as well as virtuoso violin solos by such composers as Paganini, or his old teacher, Charles Rougier.
Mary Anne Alburger [Scottish Fiddlers and their Music (London, 1983), p. 178-9] reproduced [from the Miller o’ Hirn collection?] the programme for a concert by Skinner given at Peterhead in 1879 and notes:
It is touching that twenty years after he left “The Little Men” he chose as a final solo “The Keel Row” in an arrangement by his old teacher, M. Rougier.
while quoting Skinner’s own words:
The writer is indebted to both French and German Schools, and remembers with gratitude his years of pleasant travel with Dr. Mark, and the solid lessons he received from Rougier in Manchester forty years ago. [James Scott Skinner A Guide to Bowing (Edinburgh, 1984) p. 27].
She also suggests an even more formal musical education was offered to Dr Mark’s pupils:
When not on the road, they were based in Manchester, and took lessons at the Royal College of Music, recently formed by Charles Halle. It was there that Skinner received his musical education, primarily from Charles Rougier, a French violinist with the Hallé Orchestra, who had studied at the Paris Conservatoire. [p. 175]
Alastair J. Hardie wrote in September 1975:
…it was during this period that Skinner consolidated his violinistic and theoretical skills under the guidance of Charles Rougier. [J. Scott Skinner: The Strathspey King (Topic Records 12T280) Liner notes.
The SCRAN site tells us:
1858. S. S. was in this juvenile orchestra when it gave its command performance before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on the 10th of February, 1858. Fortunately he met Charles Rougier in Manchester, and to that celebrated French violinist’s schooling in Kreutzer studies, etc., he attributed much of his future success.
As the concert was held after Skinner’s first meeting with his master we can say that, at the time of these studies he was between the ages of 13 and 15 years.
Glasgow University Special Collections tells us he went to Manchester as a cellist:
After a brief education in Aberdeen, Skinner left the Northeast to tour Great Britain playing the ‘cello with Dr Mark’s Little Men, a latter day boy band consisting of around forty juvenile boys playing in an orchestra. When not travelling the boys were based in Manchester and the Little Men attended the Royal College of Music. It was during this period that Skinner learned to read music and received his classical training from Charles Rougier, a French violinist who had studied at the Paris Conservatoire. It was this training that allowed Skinner to perform pieces by composers such as Paganini and Mozart alongside his own “traditional” pieces and also compose technically difficult pieces such as ‘The President’. Skinner felt that these compositions put him above his contemporaries such as Marshall and Neil Gow.
This may have been picked up from Mary Anne Alburger [Scottish Fiddlers, p. 174] who quotes an 1860 prospectus for Dr. Mark’s ensemble that refers to “Mister James Skinner, from Aberdeen, Highlands, 11 years of age” as a cellist. I suggest that it related to Skinner’s first period with the troupe as the programme for the 1858 Buckingham Palace concert notes him as “Jamie Skinner, Violin”.
The influence and significance of Charles Rougier is clearly important, not only to Skinner but also to historians and scholars of Scottish music. He has clearly become a crucial part of the story on Scottish traditional music and his stature continues to grow. For instance, The liner notes for the re-release of Skinner’s gramophone records by Temple Records notes the Scot “…went on to study with Charles Rougier, a renowned French violinist” while J. Murray Neil talks of Rougier as “one of Europe’s most celebrated violinists” [The Scots Fiddle, Volume 1 (Glasgow, 1999) p. 103.]
Just who was this celebrated and renowned violinist and composer/arranger who introduced Skinner, and through him, the Scottish tradition, to modern European violin technique?
I searched long and hard but my efforts to locate Charles Rougier in specialist dictionaries, music directories, catalogues of music, trade directories and genealogy websites drew a complete blank.
Fortunately, through the Hallé Orchestra I was able to confirm that the player in question was actually called Roguier. Charles Roguier, Paris, was a member of the first violin section from the orchestra’s establishment in 1858 and he played with them until the seventh season in 1864.
Census records show that this “professor of music” was born in Bordeaux in 1832, and that his full name was Pierre Charles Roguier. In 1856 he married Mary Ellen Stopford and by 1861 they were living in Moss Side. He died in 1866 and was buried at Manchester. By that time Skinner was established in Aberdeenshire as a teacher of dancing and deportment.
There is little to suggest that Roguier was as renowned as writers have come to suggest. Nevertheless, he did have some status regionally, as this concert report records:
Bury. — The first miscellaneous concert for the season of the Choral Society was given in the Athenaeum on the 19th ult., before a crowded audience. The principal vocalists were Miss Winward, Miss Lomax, Messrs. Bailey, Dumville, and Ramsbottom. There was an excellent band of about fifty performers, led by Mons. Roguier, of Manchester, and conducted by Mr. M. Wike. Judging by the fashionable attendance at this concert, and the enthusiastic manner in which the music was received, there is every reason to believe that the Choral Society and the Athenaeum may be mutual gainers by their cordial co-operation. [‘Country News’ in Musical Times and Singing Class Circular 1 Nov 1864, Volume 11, p. 390.]
I have been unable to locate and compositions or arrangements by him and wonder if the Keel Row arrangement mentioned by Mary Anne Alburger was in fact by another, but real, C. Rougier. The search continues.
It is also fascinated to note that Skinner’s mentor was a fairly young man rather than the wise and distinguished master I allowed myself to imagine he might be. It is perfectly understandable that the young Skinner might have misunderstood or failed to remember correctly the Frenchman’s correct name.
References to Dr Mark’s ensemble being closely associated with ‘The Royal College of Music’ also need to be handled with caution as it was not until 1893 that Sir Charles Hallé founded the Royal Manchester College of Music. Dr. Mark’s institution was certainly not its predecessor but rather an independent establishment that may have taken its prestigious name on account of his ensemble having performed before royalty.
James Scott Skinner: Scots Baronial Fiddler
Stuart Eydmann wrote the following in December 2015 as part of a dialogue with fiddle researcher Ronnie Gibson:
Coming from a background in building conservation I find I am constantly drawing parallels between Scotland’s architectural and musical histories. The language of historic architecture can occasionally offer insights, perspectives or convenient terminology when seeking to describe a particular aspect of the music. Of course, this is not unusual among those who write and talk of the high arts (think “soaring Gothic”), but perhaps less common at the folk level.
Taking our lead from the writings of historian R. W. Brunskill, we often differentiate between the vernacular and the polite architecture:
In architecture as in so many other fields a distinction may be made between the strand of low culture which runs alongside the more familiar and prestigious strand of high or academic culture. Vernacular architecture is part of the one strand while polite architecture is part of the other. The analogy with speech is an obvious one: there is the polite speech of the cultivated urban minority and the vernacular speech of the uneducated country-dwellers who once were in the majority. Whereas works of polite architecture are principally influenced by academic precedent, by aesthetic rules, by abstractions and by fashions in high society and only slightly, if at all, by traditions, those of vernacular architecture are influenced principally by immediate, local considerations and only to a limited though perhaps constantly increasing extent, by fashion or academic precedent. Innovations in polite architecture are frequent, speedily adopted, readily discarded; changes in vernacular architecture occur slowly and with a very long overlap between the decline of one tradition and the rise and general adoption of another.
[R W Brunskill, ‘Vernacular Building Traditions in the Lake District’ in John R. Baldwin and Ian D. Whyte (eds) The Scandinavians in Cumbria (Edinburgh, 1985), pp. 135-160, p. 135.]
I find this a handy and relatively value-free way of thinking of the dichotomy in Scottish fiddle music that, from the eighteenth century, has come to contrast the rough/untutored/country with the educated/urbane playing published works of named composers. Taking such thinking a stage further, I like to see the music and revival/transforming activities of Scottish fiddlers of the late nineteenth century onwards, particularly those of James Scott Skinner, as the musical equivalent of the so-called Scottish Baronial style of architecture that was so successful at the same time:
Sometimes referred to as Scots Baronial, this was a revivalist style of architecture that emerged during the mid-19th century in Scotland and applied largely to country houses. It took its inspiration from the fortified and semi-fortified Scottish houses of the 16th and 17th centuries. But an important motivation was a new interest and exploration of national identity, which stemmed in part from the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott and expressed in built form by his house at Abbotsford (1824), with its crow-stepped gables and projecting turrets. Further impetus was given when Queen Victoria acquired Balmoral and reconstructed it in 1852-1856. Scottish Baronial was also a reflection of a more general European interest in the revival of picturesque styles, which were used to express national character. It conveyed a romantic image of Scottish national identity and tradition, typified by the incorporation of architectural features such as crenellations, turrets, gables, small windows, little ornamentation and the use of rough-hewn stone.
I made this connection in a paper on Scottish music in which I discussed Skinner’s ‘improving’ approach to the tradition as promoted through his manifesto A Guide to Bowing (c1900). There I compared his emphasis on and exaggeration of key Scottish elements in the music with the deliberately prominent national details of baronial revival buildings.
[Eydmann, S 2006, ‘Unravelling the birl : using basic computer technology to understand traditional fiddle decorations’. in I Russell & M A Alburger (eds), Play It Like It Is : Fiddle and Dance Studies from around the North Atlantic. Elphinstone Institute Occasional Publication, no. 5, University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Institute, Aberdeen, pp. 33-41, p. 38]
I later suggested that a:
…new, hybrid fiddle music was facilitated by the Royal household’s enthusiasm for and patronage of all things respectably Scottish, including piping, fiddling and dance. Also, its advocates were at pains to associate themselves with the creative and artistic legacy of the master player/composers of the so-called Golden Age of Scottish fiddle of the late eighteenth century while, at the same time, denigrating contemporary ‘country’ or ‘folk’ players and their styles. Skinner sought a modern, ‘national’ school of Scottish violin music, as in Hungary, and would have been delighted if his concerts had achieved the high status enjoyed by those of the professional Hardanger fiddlers of Norway described by Hkon Asheim in his paper to this conference.
[Eydmann, S ‘On First Hearing’ paper presented to the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention. Derry/Donegal, 2012. Awaiting publication]
This area, I suggest, merits further exploration. Coincidentally, I have recently found that Skinner had architectural associates, but I’ll leave that for later.
Note the recent publication Miles Glendinning and Aonghus MacKechnie Scotch Baronial. Architecture and National Identity in Scotland Blommsbury, (London, 2019).